Trusting God in a Broken World

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In the forefront of my mind this week has been the safety of my children.  About a week ago, in a neighborhood very close to mine, a little 8-year old girl was kidnapped while walking with her mother in broad daylight.  By God’s grace, she was found late that evening and returned to her parents, due to the heroic efforts of the community and local police.  But I can’t stop thinking about my own children, the three beautiful daughters I call mine, and the responsibility I have as their mother.  What would I have done in that situation?

We all think we will turn into huge, green, mama-Hulks if something ever threatened our babies—but the truth is, we won’t.  At least, I know from experience that I am not the badass in a crisis that I wish I was. 

Before David and I had kids, I owned a yoga studio for a hot minute.  And one sunny Monday afternoon I was walking into the building to open for classes that evening.  A car pulled up next to me and a man yelled, “Hey!  Do you know what time it is?”  I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was way off, and fumbled for my keys, but before I could even put my thoughts together the man was out of the car and grabbing me.  I yelled and fought and eventually realized he wasn’t trying to take me, he was trying to take my bags, so I let them go and ran inside.  He drove off with a young child in the car who watched the whole thing. 

Besides being the reason my yoga studio bit the dust, this incident made me realize something about myself. It made me see that I am only human, and not a sleeper MI-6 operative just waiting to blow my cover.  It also made me realize that we are really never as “safe” as we think we are.  So, how are we supposed to handle this reality as moms, as parents? 

My husband and I have had many (quite civil of course) disagreements about the difference between taking a leap of faith versus just doing something that is plain stupid.  I tend to lean towards the mentality that doing something that seems stupid (like evangelizing in a bad part of town late at night for instance) but is for the Kingdom is ultimately worth the risk.  He is more of the mind that deliberately putting oneself in a “dangerous” place or situation, whether for God’s glory or not, is being careless with one’s responsibility to their dependents. 

I really can see it both ways.  I’ve had a hard time weeding through what is Truth and what is not, with regard to this topic.  When it comes to my own safety, I feel much more comfortable taking liberties and leaps of faith.  I know that God loves me, I know He will give me as much strength as I need to get through hard things, and I know if I die I will go to heaven.  But when it comes to my children, I find myself floating about in a land of fears that revolve around their safety and my role in it. 

One thing my husband and I have discussed is the question, “Whose responsibility is it to protect our children?”  The two obvious answers are ours and God’s.  Scripture is clear that we are to cherish our children as blessings from the Lord (Psalm 127:3), we are to teach them the right way to live (Prov. 22:6), and we are not to hinder them from pursuing God (Matt. 19:14).  There are so many verses (literally hundreds) about God’s protection of us, I can’t even begin to list them here.  There are stories of parents’ heroic efforts to save their children—Jochebed, the mother of Moses, disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders and smuggled her baby into a basket and sent him down the river.  Then there are stories like Abraham and Isaac, that fall into the “leap of faith vs. stupidity” category, where Abraham nearly kills his own son because God asked him to.  And then you have the ultimate example of God the Father sending his only Son to earth to be tortured and killed for our sins.  That hardly seems like protection!  But God the Father is perfect, a perfect parent.  What does He know that we don’t?  He knows the real threat. 

We need to know our enemy.  We have to ask, “What are we protecting our children from?” My weak, fearful heart is usually worried about the external threats—the kidnappers, the rapists, the pornographers; these things are surely pure evil and I have seen their lifelong, damaging effects in the lives of some of my friends.  Yes, I absolutely want to do what I can to prevent these horrible things from happening to my children.  But I believe all of the Bible, not just some of it, and I know God wants me to see that there is a still greater threat to my children than these external tortures. 

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12).  I don’t say this to darken your view, but to encourage you in your walk as a parent, as to where to direct your focus. 

The real threat is sin—not the sins of others, but our own sin, because it separates us from God, which leads to eternity in hell.  And the real threat to our children is their own sin, which we are called to enlighten them to and call them to repentance.  Stupidity is not a sin.  Not being a black-belt ninja warrior is not a sin.  Being a victim of assault is not a sin.  Fighting against evil with real weapons is not a sin.  But not trusting God is a sin. 

So, my takeaway from this week has been Pray, and trust God first.  I cannot ultimately control what happens to my children.  I can keep them in a plexiglass bubble their entire lives and make them wear sunscreen and teach them karate; I can be proficient in the use of all kinds of weapons and train for every foreseeable situation, but God is in control of their lives. He sees the unforeseen.  He holds them in the palm of His hand.

I confess, I don’t understand why things have to be so evil in this world sometimes, but I don’t have to understand.  One day I will know.  And for now I have to acknowledge the part I have played in making this sinful world the way it is, rather than pointing the finger at others.  No sin is less evil than another, no person more righteous than another. 

I will leave you with this:

“In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can man do to me?”  Psalm 56:10-11

I am Esau

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Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished.  He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!”…Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”  “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said.  “What good is the birthright to me?”  But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”  So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew.  He ate and drank, and then got up and left.  So Esau despised his birthright.  Genesis 25:29-34

I am Esau, and so are you.

How often do we make this trade…something that is a quick pleasure, a fleeting indulgence, in exchange for the eternal inheritance we have in Christ.  Did I lose you at “eternal inheritance”?  Let’s unpack this in real life:

Do I get up early to spend time in prayer (eternal value), or hit the snooze and enjoy the comfort of my bed (quick pleasure)?  Do I stop at Starbucks and go for that white chocolate mocha “because it’s Monday,” or do I make black coffee at home because #stewardship and to teach myself to find comfort in the Lord instead of sugar? 

Esau had his mind set on the flesh, and he was seeking to satisfy his most base and immediate desires.  Isn’t this the struggle?  Every day we fight against these pulls on our flesh, these things that will give immediate comfort, pleasure, or ease.  Maybe it’s that chocolate ice cream or a glass of wine that we just “need” at the end of a long day of self-discipline.  Maybe it’s pulling out our phones to check Instagram or Facebook for some quick idolatry of what others might be thinking of our posts.  Just me?  I am so quick to look for little things in which to find bits of comfort, and I am quick to justify them as “balance.”  A little for God, a little for me. 

We can minimize and justify a great many sins in the name of ‘self-care’ and ‘moderation’ or whatever word for entitlement you want to use; but underneath our refusal to let go of these things is a belief—a belief that God is not enough to truly satisfy. 

There are a few things that stand out to me about Esau in this narrative.  First, he has put himself in a vulnerable spot.  He is hungry, exhausted, and discontent with his circumstances.  He comes in the door with one thought:  feed my flesh.  He has evidently been starving his spirit as well as his flesh. 

Compare this with Jesus’s response when Satan came to him after fasting for 40 days in the desert.  Satan tempts him by saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  And Jesus answers, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Jesus was hungry too, but He was content. He was filled by something else: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

As with so many of the Bible’s lessons, this narrative is more about the heart than about the actions themselves.  Is it wrong to be hungry and to eat food in response to said hunger?  Of course not.  But when the food comes at the cost of our inheritance that Jesus died on the cross to give us…the heart behind that exchange is wrought with sin. 

There is one more thing I find interesting about this account.  After Esau sells his birthright, he eats, drinks, and gets up and leaves.  And then it says “he despised his birthright.”  I can relate to this.  We think we need that thing…that one thing that, if we can just acquire it, would make us happy and satisfy our hearts.  And then we get it.  God says, here, beloved, have it.  Have the thing you think will bring you more happiness than Me.  And we do.  We take it in both hands and we drink deep and we delight in it, for a moment.  But as we wash it down, it leaves a bitter aftertaste of emptiness and of the knowledge that it is not enough.  We eat, we drink, we get up and leave.

But here’s where we can be different than Esau…we can be ready.  Before the hunger and fatigue set in, we can be armed with contentment, fully satisfied in what God has already given us.  We can make our choices based on our belief that God really—really!—IS enough.  When we start to see our smallest choices as an opportunity to choose God over ourselves, it is truly liberating to realize we actually don’t need all of these things we think we need.  It’s so simple, it just might be the answer we’ve all been looking for.  God alone.  Nothing else.  Give it all, keep nothing, gain everything.  You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11

The Prayer I Meant to Pray, for My Daughter

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As I sit here watching my 6-year old take her ice skating lesson, I catch myself asking God to help her be successful in passing her test.  I’m asking Him to help her listen to her coach, apply the instruction, and succeed in mastering the skills she needs to learn to pass when she takes her test today.  I’m asking Him to make the coaches amiable so they might overlook any small mistakes.  I’m asking God for these things because, in my mind, success defined this way (passing her test) would mean her happiness.  She’s failed this same test twice already, and she was so disappointed each time.  I hate to see her disappointed.  My mommy heart wants to see her happy, and another failure won’t elicit that result, at least not in the short term. 

You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with praying for those things?” Well, nothing.  It is perfectly okay to pray for these things…But what stands out to me as I pray is the part that is missing.  It’s the part of the prayer where I acknowledge that she is His first, and mine second, and that He knows what she needs before she even asks for it (Matthew 6:8).  It is the part where I step back and see the big picture, and acknowledge that maybe failing a test 3 times produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:4). 

How many times has God shown me His character and love through my failures?  And how many through easy wins? 

What is the lesson that is most important for my child to learn? There are so many life lessons to be learned through skating, through sports in general.  It’s hard to think of a better tool for teaching perseverance, obedience, submission to authority, character in failure, or accepting consequences for our actions.  There are so many worthy things for her to learn through this experience; all of them edifying, and all of them able to teach her an attribute of God.  But the most important of all may be a lesson for her mother.  A lesson to remember how God defines success. 

See, because God is sovereign, success for Him is a given.  It’s guaranteed.  So with God, it’s not about the finish line.  He knows handing us a gold medal won’t teach us anything.  God measures our success by our hearts, by our obedience to Him, and our reliance on Him.  In relying on His strength and trusting in His wisdom, we are free to become everything He intended for us to be. 

God sees through the lens of eternity, and knows that failure is a key ingredient for producing perseverance, which we will need if we are to fight against the powers of darkness in this ever-darkening world.  Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. —James 1:4 NIV

So, I change my prayer for her to pass her test into a prayer for her to know these truths in her heart:  I want her to know she has immeasurable value and worth before she even wakes up in the morning, long before she ever steps on that ice.  I want her to know that she could fall every 3 seconds, and I would still think she is the most amazing thing I have ever seen.  I want her to know that win or lose, stand or fall, pass or fail, she is God’s precious daughter whom I love more than I could ever tell her.  And I want her to know that no accomplishment here on earth, no matter how monumental, will ever compare to the indescribable joy of being with Jesus in glory one day. 

I pray that she knows all of these things, and I still pray that she will pass her test.  Except, it doesn’t have to be today.  I pray that, when she has learned the portion of diligence and tenacity that God deems requisite, she would know the joy of accomplishment and who supplied it.  And that she would celebrate a thousand times more than she would have if she’d gotten it right the first time. 

Of course, she passed.  Because, you know…God’s got style.

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Streams of Consciousness in Waco

I am seriously so distracted right now.  I came down here to try to write something for the blog, and spend some quiet time with the Lord, and this crew of teenage athletes is just so distracting.  Why, God?  I thought you wanted me to spend time with you, enjoy this evening that I have so blessedly to myself. 

Why did you make my computer die so I had to plug it in over here, next to these loud children talking about absolutely completely unimportant things in life.  Like baseball.  And baseball practice.  For.ev.er.  Ugh. 

Ok, maybe you are wanting to teach me something.  Focus, perhaps.  Discipline.  Or maybe you want me to stand up in the middle of this room and start preaching like Billy Graham.  Please Lord, no, for everyone’s sake.

They’re getting quieter now, so maybe I can get some ideas down on paper.  For one thing, I drove to Waco today in my husband’s Jeep, and Jeeps are very good for acquiring sun exposure.  Which is great, if you enjoy the sun’s cancer-causing rays, but if you are someone like me who has already had skin cancer, Jeeps are not for you.  Secondly, do you ever wish you had some sort of communication device to tell the other drivers what they need to know?  Like a marquis or something would be ideal.  So I can tell the truck driver to stay in his lane, or tell the guy tailgating me to calm his mammary glands.  On second thought, it’s probably really good that we can’t communicate with other cars.  Thank you, Lord, for protecting me from myself and not allowing me to say things that will get me in trouble.  Ok, lets get back to writing…

This has been “Streams of Consciousness in the Desert” with Amanda Pastusek.  Our apologies for the low standard of content in this piece, but the quality can only get better.  Hope you’ll join us again next time. 

Your Story Isn’t Boring

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In the evangelical church community, it can feel like there is a lot of pressure to “have a story” and to share that story with others as our testimony of God’s grace.  It is a powerful gospel-sharing tool—however, it is easy to get too caught up in our part of the story, rather than God’s part of it, and make it more about us and our human drama than about Him.

Hear me say, we should definitely be sharing our stories!  But, many devoted Christ-followers are feeling left out in the cold because they feel that their stories are boring, or that their stories would not inspire anyone to trust in Jesus. This is how I felt about my story for 27 years of my life.  I grew up in a Christian home, had two married, loving parents, went to a Christian school, and didn’t drink or use drugs.  Nothing terribly traumatic had happened to me, and I couldn’t really pinpoint a specific day or moment when I trusted Christ as my Savior.  It had just kind of happened, over time, and I got baptized while I was in high school. 

Fast forward to 5 years into my marriage—we started attending Watermark (our current church home), and started hearing amazing stories of God’s redemption every single week.  It was so refreshing and contagious!  You couldn’t help but want a story like those.  I remember half-heartedly asking God to give me a story like that, because I thought mine was boring. 

Sadly and ironically, at that point I had already begun my unfaithfulness to my husband.  Somehow it didn’t register with me that I was already writing my own part of the story—all the broken, awful, heartbreaking parts of the story.  At the 6 year mark in our marriage, it was those amazing Watermark testimonies that moved my heart to repentance, and gave me the courage to trust God enough to confess the affair to my husband.  And then it was God’s turn to blow my mind. 

He brought both my husband and I to our knees in desperation, begging Him to give us hope for our marriage.  Begging Him to honor our attempt to salvage our broken pieces, and to make something beautiful from the ashes.  And He did, ya’ll!  He did. 

Oh yes, He gave us a story of grace and redemption, but even more than that, He gave us the greatest gift of all…Himself.  A true, real, living, working relationship with Him that neither of us had ever had before.  That’s the real story.  That’s the part that matters.  If it were just my story, it would be a sad story of brokenness and heartache without a happy ending.  But it’s not my story.  It’s His.

Do you see??  The dramatic part of the story is not ours! The crazy, insane, doesn’t-make-sense part is not the depth of our depravity, it is God’s amazing love that rescues us from it.  That a perfect God, who is straight-up love and goodness, sent His only Son to earth to die on a cross for our ugly, dirty, messed-up selves.  He takes us as we are, loves us where we’re at, and gives us a second chance when we don’t deserve it.

You guys need to know something about me though.  Back when I thought my story was boring…it wasn’t. I didn’t have “big” sins in my past, but I had plenty of other ones.  I was completely narcissistic, vain, and dishonest.  I lived primarily for my own joy and interests, rarely looking to the interests of others.  I was living for myself, not serving God’s kingdom or His people in the least.  I had dead faith

God could have used any of those things to write my story, because His part of it is always the same!  Radical, supernatural rescue from ourselves. 

God doesn’t save us from the world, He saves us from ourselves.  We all need His transforming grace, we all need to be rescued. 

So, my question to you is this…do you think your story is boring?  I guarantee you it’s not.  But there is a chance you might be blocking God’s part of the story.  Not in the sense that you have some power that God lacks, but in the sense that God doesn’t force His love upon us.  For God to write His part, we have to admit we are broken beyond all hope without Him. 

Are you still hoping in yourself, thinking your story is boring because you’re not very broken?  Perhaps you trusted in Christ in a transactional way, like the way you would sign a contract or an insurance policy.  Maybe it was on your checklist of “things upright people do as they grow up.” 

Maybe you believed in your heart but never trusted Him the way a skydiver trusts his parachute, or the way a climber trusts his rope—like your life depends on it. 

Oh friend, I want so badly for you to experience the radical joy that comes from falling on your face, utterly helpless before God.  And then experiencing His love as He lifts your chin and says, “I know.  I love you, my child.”  Let Him love you like that.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus, Matthew 10:39

Jars of Clay

I have wanted to start writing several times over the past couple of years, but, every time, it seemed like I couldn’t move forward.  I couldn’t decide what to write about, or how to deliver it, or if I was even the right person to deliver it.  I felt the same trepidation this morning as I brought my laptop and my 2-year old to Chick-fil-A to try to get something, anything, written down. 

“You need to be more disciplined in your spiritual life before you start writing,” said the voice in my head. 

“How can you have any wisdom to share with others when you have so much to work on yourself?” 

“Maybe when you know the Bible better, or share the gospel more, then you’ll be equipped to write about something, but not right now.  You’re not ready.”

As all these doubts and questions ran through my mind on the drive over here, I realized who was behind it all.  The devil doesn’t want me to think I can come here and just start writing about God’s goodness and truth.  He wants me to believe I need a seminary degree or a journalism background or an internship, or that I’ll just never be good enough.  He is terrified of ordinary people who want to be vocal and bold about the Gospel when they have no credentials except that God is calling them, and he is right to be terrified. 

Once I called out satan’s lies for what they were (I don’t even capitalize his name because he’s not worth it), I was able to hear more clearly the Truth that is written on my heart, but that I struggle to really believe sometimes.  I am ready and equipped because God says I am, because I have His truth to stand on, not my own. 

If it weren’t for Him, I wouldn’t be sitting here today with this 2-year old, the “love baby” that my husband and I were blessed with after our marriage was in crisis 4 years ago from an affair that I had.  My marriage wouldn’t be healing and thriving, and my life would be empty and without purpose.  How can I not tell others what God has done?  How can I put it off another month, another year?  I can’t, and I don’t have to. 

So, I said, “Ok God.  I’m at least ready to try.  But what do you want me to write about? I have so many doubts and thoughts swimming around in my head and I just can’t…”

“Write about that,” He said.  “Write about your fears and doubts, and then write about My peace, My assurance, and My love that conquers them.  Write about how I have loved you unconditionally, how I turned your life around and gave you a new life and a new purpose.  Write about Me, and you’ll never run out of things to say.” 

Yes and Amen.

Like so many figures in the Bible, I feel completely under-qualified for my task; and like them, I am wrong.  Not wrong because I’m so incredibly prepared and wise and studied…but wrong because God supplies the material, His Spirit moves our minds and hearts to do His will, and all He wants is a vessel. 

Scripture says that cracked and broken vessels are the best for holding God’s light, because it is through the cracks that the light shines through.  I don’t know about you, but I have a few cracks in my clay. 

Some of us have so many cracks, we’re barely holding together.  Rather than trying to patch up those cracks, or cover them up, how about we let God shine through them and share our stories?  Share with others who need to know that someone else has been where they are. 

So as I sit here with tears running down my face while the other Chick-fil-A moms are wondering what’s the matter with me, I ask you this:  What is God calling you to today that you feel unprepared for?  Where do you feel under-qualified or afraid of failure? 

The world tells us to reach for our goals, to aim high and never settle…but God’s call is not about any of that.  It’s so much quieter, yet so much bigger.  It’s a loving voice asking you to be a vessel, to let Him write the story, and to have courage to surrender our fears and doubts so that He can blow our minds.  And He will, oh you better believe He will.